ON March 25, Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz shared a photo on his Twitter account that showed the prime minister who had tested positive for Covid-19 (I pray for his complete recovery) a few days before the picture was taken, meeting six men indoors. The minister captioned the photo, “Prime minister with the media team today at Bani gala”.
This photo was a disturbing optic. What kind of a signal does it send? Does it signal that a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 can start socialising? If so, is it not in strong contrast to what the government itself is trying to stop citizens from doing? Does it signal that you don’t need to isolate yourself when you have Covid-19? Or does it signal that you can’t spread the Covid-19 virus even if you’re infected with it? Again, is it all not against medical guidelines?
Let’s forget for a second that Covid-19 is wreaking havoc. Let’s not concern ourselves that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world have died from this dangerous disease. Let’s pass over the fact that many families are going through emotional trauma for having lost their loved ones because of this deadly illness. Even if someone has a hard heart and prefers to ignore all these facts, one can’t ignore that thousands of people are fighting for their lives because of this very disease in our country even if we go only by the numbers released by the government.
The picture points to another issue that I, as an ordinary citizen, find concerning. It is this. How does the government make its decisions? The public should know this since the minister made an unnecessary decision by sharing this photo. As a citizen, I would like to know how these decisions are made. How do those in power evaluate their choices? And I’m interested in finding out how the pros outweighed the cons in this particular case. More importantly, I wonder how those in power make consequential decisions. I want to know whether those in power show deliberation and seriousness of purpose while they make such decisions, and if so, how. Also, what does it take for those in power to realise and fix their mistakes? Because the last I checked, this picture was still on social media, and lest we forget, a picture is worth a thousand words. Are thousands of deaths not enough to realise the mistake? Is it not enough that every single day scores of mothers lose their sons and daughters, and children lose their parents? Is it not enough that people are losing their dreams, their support and hope? Is it not enough? What would it take to make one realise that it is enough?
What kind of signals did the Banigala picture send?
If people follow the message conveyed by this picture in its spirit, it can put their lives in danger since some of them like to follow their beloved leaders blindly. Sadly many political leaders play down the risk of this deadly virus. Meetings of people infected with the virus can be dangerous at a time when this deadly illness is attacking us with all its force and fury.
So this picture raises three more questions. As a national leader, is it prudent to put the lives of those who follow you out of love and respect at risk? No, it’s not. In this case, the leader unfortunately did that but luckily this can be undone by owning and fixing the error. Secondly, as a leader, do you put the lives of your most trusted allies in danger? No, you don’t. But in this case the lives of six people (and possibly more if we count the person who took the picture) and their families were potentially at risk. Thirdly, is it not wise to stop each other from doing something unwise? It certainly is. But, sadly, the men in the picture couldn’t do that. Noble men are noble because of their noble deeds.
Any private act of a public leader that can lead to public harm can break the trust that people place on the leader — trust that the leader would prioritise the well-being of his people; trust that the leader would take care of the emotional and physical safety of his people. Is it fair and just to break that trust and then publicise it too?
Some may say that this writer is trying to blow an innocuous incident out of proportion. Well, it wasn’t innocuous. This meeting was a blatant violation of SOPs. This meeting was a bold denial of expert health opinion. If this meeting was necessary, the simple use of technology could have made it possible. Also, to me it’s a communication blunder by the government and I say that as someone who has lost a few dear ones in his family to Covid-19. And as someone who’s still trying to navigate through these difficult times when every day I come across people who still challenge the existence of a disease which is as real as it can be. And this alone is enough of a reason for all political leaders to act seriously.
The writer is an author and entrepreneur.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2021